He walked to the subway, thinking that it would be quite a coincidence to run into her waiting for the same train to Copacabana. At three-thirty the platform of Cinelandia station was fairly empty, though even if it hadn't been he thought he would have been able to pick her out of a crowd. But she wasn't there.
He'd taken the afternoon off to buy a new electric toaster and browse in the secondhand bookstores downtown. He didn't like malls; he liked downtown, with its foot traffic and diverse architecture. He'd barely gotten started when the phone call came through. He was aware that he was not being perfectly honest about needing to come downtown for a toaster or a used-book store; both were available closer to home. And neither justified the absence of the chief of the Twelfth Precinct, on a Monday afternoon, from his workplace in Copacabana: but these trivial errands let him dream of a life outside the police. Every once in a while the desire for a change of pace suddenly surged within him. The spark could be a story in a paper reporting that cops controlled prostitution in several different parts of the city, or a weekend spent exclusively with Irene. The situations elicited entirely different responses --dismay in the first case, attraction in the second -- each signaling the silent and almost imperceptible process of distancing himself from something. He wasn't sure what, but it had started a while ago and it worried him intensely. Until he actually made up his mind, a walk through downtown Rio was an effective remedy, though he knew that it was only a placebo.
On his way to the Praça do Lido, he thought about books. It wasn't really the books themselves he liked -- he wasn't a bibliophile, and his books didn't even have proper shelves. They were just piled up next to the living room wall, one row arranged vertically, another horizontally, and so on, until they rose taller than Espinosa himself. It was narratives he sought in books, well-told stories. His maternal grandmother, who had educated him, had instilled in him a love of reading. In any case, that afternoon, downtown, he hadn't bought a single book, or a toaster; he was simply distracted by a woman's leg. He was sorry about missing the bookstores, but he was secretly satisfied about the toaster. His toaster had had the same problem for almost a year: it toasted only one side of the bread. He'd grown used to the ritual of toasting one side of the bread, then flipping it around and waiting for the other side to be ready. Before he'd even gotten rid of the toaster, he'd already missed it.
He got to the Praça do Lido a little before four in the afternoon. Located in the first third of Copacabana Beach, the plaza took up half a block; the other was occupied by a public school. The school was on the side facing the Avenida Copacabana, while the square faced the Avenida Atlantica, in front of the ocean. At that hour, it would have been occupied by children and senior citizens, if the yellow police tape hadn't kept them back. Covered with a piece of black plastic that Espinosa identified as a reconfigured garbage bag, the body sat on the bench, in the same position in which it had been discovered by the companion of an elderly woman who often visited the square.
As soon as he bent under the yellow tape, Espinosa spotted his assistant walking toward him. Welber had lost the freshman jauntiness he'd had when Espinosa first met him. But he still had the same enthusiasm that two years earlier had led him to take a bullet directed at his chief. Not out of heroism -- though he was capable of it -- but because he was younger and quicker.
"What happened?" the officer asked.
"Silveira from the Third Precinct ... He was shot in the neck while sitting on the bench in the garden. Nobody saw or heard anything. He was discovered by the nurse, who was with an old lady in a wheelchair who comes every afternoon to the square. She sat on one end of the bench with the wheelchair next to her, talking to the lady... According to her, it wasn't exactly a conversation, since she was the only one talking. Half an hour later, she noticed that the man seated at the other end of the bench, whose head was resting on his chest, hadn't moved an inch. At first she thought he was asleep, but then she noticed something was wrong. She spoke to him, but he didn't answer. She tried again, but the man didn't budge. She got up to look, and that's when she saw the blood on his collar. She got one of the maintenance men and asked him to call the police. It was around three in the afternoon."
From A Window in Copacabana by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. Copyright 2001 Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza. Originally published in Brazil in 2001 under the title Uma Janela em Copacabana. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Henry Holt & Company.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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